John R. Lott Jr.
is president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and the author of "More Guns, Less Crime"
The new year has brought yet more gun-control regulations. President Obama announced new executive orders on background checks. Connecticut citizens stood in long lines to register their guns, and, next door in New York City, registration lists are used to confiscate them.
While the research by criminologists and economists keeps showing that gun control doesn't work, technological advances and practical problems mean the laws are increasingly likely only to disarm the law-abiding.
In the era of 3D printing, you won't be able to ban guns and it will be even more difficult to stop unapproved people from obtaining them. A part metal/part plastic gun printed from a 3D printer will be completely indistinguishable from a traditionally made gun, even down to whatever serial number you want.
3D printers have consequences for the gun-control laws Obama and other Democrats are pushing. If AR-15s are banned, anyone could borrow a 3D printer and make one. If magazines holding more than 10 rounds are banned, and you don't have access to a very simple set of tools, print one off.
Can the government stop 3D-printed guns? Unfortunately, no. Even if the government registered every printer, criminals could simply steal one. How about requiring prior government permission for every item printed? That seems unenforceable, especially since printers will soon become ubiquitous.
Software is also impossible to control. When Cody Wilson, the 25-year-old founder of Defense Distributed, announced his design of a virtually all-plastic gun in May, the software blueprint from his website was quickly downloaded around the world. In just two days, 100,000 downloads were made, with most coming from Spain, followed by the United States and heavily regulated Brazil and Germany. Within two weeks, the software could be downloaded from more than 4,000 servers around the world.
There is also a practical problem in stopping these attacks. As Interpol Secretary General Ron Noble noted in November, there are two ways to protect people: "One is to say we want an armed citizenry; you can see the reason for that. Another is to say the enclaves are so secure that in order to get into the soft target you're going to have to pass through extraordinary security."
Noble points to the real problem: "How do you protect soft [civilian] targets? That's really the challenge. You can't have armed police forces everywhere. . . . It makes citizens question their views on gun control. You have to ask yourself, 'Is an armed citizenry more necessary now than it was in the past with an evolving threat of terrorism?' "
Noble's comments came shortly after the terrorist attack at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, where 68 people were killed. Kenya bans both open and concealed carrying of firearms by civilians. Yet, obviously, those bans didn't stop the terrorists.
In the United States, the vast majority of mass public shootings have been extensively planned beforehand - often many months or even years in advance. An example is Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook Elementary School killer, who spent more than two years studying everything about previous mass shootings: the weapons used, the number of people killed, and even how much media coverage each attack received. Some police even likened his careful study to a doctoral dissertation.
Another careful planner was James Holmes, who is charged with the Aurora, Colo., massacre. According to police, he started buying items 21/2 months in advance. He visited neighboring theaters, buying his ticket almost two weeks before his attack. To help himself prepare, he photographed the layout of the theater.
Holmes appears to have carefully selected the theater. There were seven movie theaters within a 20-minute drive of his apartment showing the premiere of The Dark Knight Rises. He didn't choose the one closest to his apartment or the one prominently advertising the largest auditoriums in Colorado. He chose the only one with signs saying permitted concealed guns were banned.
The decision to pick the one theater that posted a gun ban would not surprise Noble. He notes: "Where would you have wanted to be? In a city where there was gun control and no citizens armed if you're in a Westgate Mall, or in a place [with lots of people armed]?"
The importance of armed citizens was demonstrated just days before the Sandy Hook attack, at the Clackamas Town Center Mall in Portland, Ore. In the crowded mall, a likely mass shooting was halted after two people were killed. It ended because one brave person, Nick Meli, a concealed-permit holder, stopped the attack simply by pointing his gun at the shooter. Alas, as is all too typical, the national news media all but ignored how an armed citizen prevented a large-scale killing spree.
Noble's statements and the ruckus over 3D printing show the frustration in stopping criminals and terrorists from getting guns. Before more gun-control measures are enacted, policymakers and the public need to understand that so-called gun-free zones shouldn't be places where only victims are disarmed.